National News

Parent Gap Inc. benefits as Old Navy gets stylish

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-21 02:00

Clothing retailer Gap Inc. reports first-quarter results on Thursday. Revenue in 2014 totaled $16.2 billion, up 3.2 percent from the previous year. For the last four quarters, profit has gone up year-over-year by an average of 4 percent. But there's an interesting fragmentation within parent company Gap Inc. Last fiscal year, store sales fell 5 percent at Gap stores; Banana Republic's sales were also unimpressive. But at Old Navy, sales went up 5 percent.

Old Navy started out as a place where the whole family could pick up cheap fleece jackets and tank tops.

"They really weren't known very much for being fashion forward," says Jane Thomas, marketing professor at Winthrop University.

Other retailers, like H&M and Forever 21, started grabbing young shoppers. But then Gap Inc. hired the executive who led H&M's expansion into the U.S., Stefan Larsson, and asked him to revamp Old Navy.

"It's brilliant strategy," Thomas says.

Now, plain T-shirts and khakis are bold prints and crinkle-gauze tops. Mark Cohen, head of retail studies at Columbia University's business school, says Old Navy is making its merchandise more interesting and attractive. But the Gap has an identity crisis.

"Is it trading into the teen segment with American Eagle, Abercrombie and Aeropostale, or is it trying to move up market to an older customer? I'm not sure they get it," Cohen says.

If the Gap does get it, he says, it's not making it clear.

An egg-cellent shortage of eggs

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-05-21 01:58
$12.7 billion

That's how much CVS Health Corp will reportedly pay to acquire Omnicare Inc, a pharmaceuticals provider. As Bloomberg reports, pharmaceutical companies are looking for ways to consolidate to take full advantage of the rising demand for pharmacy services.

87 percent

That’s the percentage of afflicted chickens in the recent avian flu outbreak that are egg-laying hens, according to the New York Times. And that potentially means big business for a company like Hampton Creek, which sells an egg substitute product. The chief executive of Hampton Creek says eight companies, including General Mills, have been in contact about purchasing supplies. It seems that without planning for the inevitable shortage of the real stuff, these companies might really lay an egg.

5 percent

That's how much sales for Old Navy increased last fiscal year. In an effort to shed its reputation as a store for cheap basics, Old Navy hired Stefan Larsson, who helped oversee H&M's expansion stateside. And the numbers show the style makeover has worked. That's good news for parent company Gap Inc., but leaves its sister franchise, The Gap, with an identity crisis—The Gap saw sales fall 5 percent in the same amount of time. 


That's how old Disney will turn this summer. We take a look at how the economic ecosystem of the company works—from parlaying the success of films into merchandising, as well as attractions in one of many theme parks. Frozen, for example, was released two years ago, and the company is still reaping the benefits—its recent second quarter earnings report showed stronger-than-expected numbers.

$100 million

That's how much the city of Baltimore was given 20 years ago as part of a program called The Empowerment Zone. Delivered in the form of a block grant and a package of tax credits for businesses and employers, the award went to six cities, with some wiggle room for each to choose how the money could be used. Baltimore chose to focus on job creation in its poorest neighborhoods. Marketplace's Noel King recently took a trip to Baltimore to answer the question: How many jobs does $100 million get you?

David Letterman Leaves Late-Night TV With A Near-Perfect Final Show

NPR News - Thu, 2015-05-21 01:00

Letterman led his last CBS Late Show Wednesday after 33 years in late night. The host left as he arrived: with a hilarious show made on his own terms.

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WHO Calls For $100 Million Emergency Fund, Doctor 'SWAT Team'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 23:41

The World Health Organization isn't ready for the next pandemic or international health crisis. So the agency's leader is calling for major reforms at the WHO. But will the changes be enough?

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Avian Flu Outbreak Takes Poultry Producers Into Uncharted Territory

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 23:40

Avian influenza is ravaging poultry flocks across the Upper Midwest. The virus is "doing things we've never seen it do before," and understanding about transmission is very limited, a scientist says.

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Spending To Fight Wildfires At The Expense Of Preventing Them

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 23:38

In Washington state, a community coalition is bringing homeowners, businesses and government together to figure out how best to use what little money there is to protect the land from destruction.

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States Lack Accurate Statistics On Widespread Heroin Use

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 23:36

Opiate abuse has reached crisis levels, but some states aren't doing all they can to determine the depth of the problem. Finding up-to-date statistics for specific drugs is often difficult.

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Why A Chinese Government Think Tank Attacked American Scholars

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 23:35

The group says American professors are misinterpreting the country's Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). That's huge for China's Communist Party, which is deeply invested in history — and in who interprets it.

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Postman Who Gyrocoptered Onto Captiol Lawn Faces Two Felonies

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 16:39

Doug Hughes, who delivered letters decrying the role of big money in politics, is only accused of misdemeanors for breaching federal airspace; the felonies are lack of proper license and registration.

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Islamic State Takes Control Of Ancient City Of Palmyra

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 15:33

The city is on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites, and it gives the militant group access to gas fields and roads across the Syrian desert.

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Chipping Away At The Mystery Of The Oldest Tools Ever Found

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 15:13

How do you prove a rock was actively shaped and used as a tool more than 3 million years ago? Scientists found a kit of more than 140 artifacts in one spot, and say the tools' crafters were pre-human.

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For Israel, Soccer Becomes A Geopolitical Football

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 15:10

The head of FIFA visited Israel and the West Bank this week, where Palestinians are petitioning to expel Israel from soccer's governing body — and its biggest international tournaments.

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McMadness: Activists Pile On At McDonald's Shareholders Meeting

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 14:07

From workers calling for higher wages to teachers blasting McDonald's for marketing to kids in schools, a bevy of critics have descended upon the company's headquarters in Illinois this week.

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FDA Wants To Pull Back The Curtain, Slightly, On Farm Antibiotics

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:28

The Food and Drug Administration wants to know which farm animals are getting treated most heavily with antibiotics. But the FDA's proposal still falls short of the best European data practices.

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Often The Butt Of Jokes, S.C.'s Giant Peach Is Ripe For Renovation

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:26

The South Carolina landmark that's both loved and lampooned has gained national celebrity. But the peach's bright paint has soured over the years, so it's getting a makeover — to the chagrin of some.

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Currency control sits uneasily in trade deal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Congress is debating whether or not to attach some new rules about what countries can and can't do with their currencies to a pending "fast track" trade bill, which would allow Congress to vote on free trade deals but not filibuster or amend them. 


“What I think we’re trying to do here is to create a playing field on which international trade will take place now for years to come,” says Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former member of President Obama’s economic team. “So you want labor standards, you want environmental standards and you also want currency standards.”


If countries are able to devalue their currencies to make their exports cheaper relative to other countries, Bernstein says that means the playing field isn’t level anymore. ­­


However, the Obama administration has opposed adding currency rules to pending fast-track legislation or a 12-country trade deal in the works, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned Tuesday that adding these currency rules could open to door for other countries to challenge Federal Reserve policies.


“It’s a pretty fine line between actual intervention in the foreign exchange market and alternatively, using monetary policy, that is printing more money or reducing interest rates, in order to make the currency cheaper in value,” says Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University.


While Bernstein thinks spotting currency manipulators is straightforward, Alan Sykes, a professor at NYU School of Law, says countries always have other explanations for their actions.


“They’re promoting development, they’re maintaining a stable value of their currency, or in the case of the United States, we need low interest rates to stimulate the economy in the face of a serious recession,” he says. “So there’s always a story.”


The Senate is expected to vote on a fast-track bill later this week. 

My First Job: Video dating service

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Melissa O’Neil’s first job was working the front desk for a dating service, but this was before the days of sites like eHarmony or

“Back in the day before the internet, they would actually take videos of people doing all the things they do in the online forms now,” O’Neil says.

According to O’Neil, sometimes customers’ dating videos had outtakes.

“The guys very much got in trouble and had to be edited for saying things about what they were looking for … and women were more on the side of saying things about themselves that they shouldn’t have said.”

But O’Neil says she was able to learn something from the mistakes of all those video daters looking for love.

“Seeing how people presented themselves and the kind of things they could do that would shoot themselves in the foot taught me a lot about how to present myself – obviously in the dating world – but more specifically in the work world,” says O’Neil.  

Rate rigging in London affects U.S. consumers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

The Justice Department says five big banks have agreed to plead guilty to manipulating foreign exchange markets: Barclays, Citibgroup, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS. UBS also pleaded guilty to skewing a benchmark rate called LIBOR.

LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate, is what big banks charge each other for loans. Lots of consumer loans with variable interest rates are based on it, such as adjustable-rate mortgages, private student loans and car loans.

“There are important amounts of borrowing for car loans and for credit cards that are absolutely tied to a variable rate, and that variable rate is often LIBOR,” says Simon Johnson, a professor of global economics and management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Adjustable-rate mortgages are also tied to the LIBOR, and its manipulation has unsettled the mortgage market. 

“It undermined the whole credibility of an index for mortgages that supposedly was above board in terms of how it adjusted – either lowered or raised your payment,” says Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance.

Consumers were also affected by the currency manipulation, although more indirectly. U.S.  companies with business aboard might have lost out because of the skewed currency market.

“And when that happens, they have to pass on the costs somewhere, and they may well pass them onto consumers,” says Hillary Sale, a professor of law and management at Washington University in Saint Louis.

So the next time you yawn at someone manipulating a market far away that you’ve never heard of, just remember, you could be the one who pays.




The job application for Al-Qaeda

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

On Wednesday, the U.S. government declassified a whole bunch of documents it found in Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

Lots of fascinating stuff — among them a job application to join Al-Qaeda, which will sound familiar to anyone who's ever filled out any job application.

These are all quotes:

  • "Please write clearly and legibly."
  • "Have you ever been in jail or prison?"
  • "List your previous occupations."
  • "Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?"
  • "Who should we contact in case you became a martyr?"

Northwestern professor is a real 'Survivor'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-20 13:00

Max Dawson has always been a fan of the long-running reality television "Survivor," so much so that in 2012 he taught a class about it at Northwestern University. “The class was called “The Tribe Has Spoken,” says Dawson, now a Los Angeles-based media consultant. “I wanted to teach these students … about the industry they were going into. And what better way than using a case study of a show that really defined reality TV and redefined what American television is all about?”

Dawson’s class soon caught the eye of recruiters for "Survivor" and he was offered a spot on the show. “First, I thought I was being pranked by a friend or a student, but when the idea was planted in my head, it suddenly seemed really logical,” he says.

After getting the invitation, Dawson spent nearly two years preparing for the show. He did everything from putting in time at the gym to reading books about psychology in order to get ready. When it finally came time to make his debut, he felt ready. But he quickly realized that he may have been a bit too prepared.

“I was voted off in the second week,” Dawson says. “I came to the harsh realization that not everyone loves a know-it-all.”

This season of "Survivor" also had contestants broken into one of three groups: The white collars, the blue collars and the no collars. Dawson was put into the white collars, which he doesn’t think did him any favors. “White collar is synonymous with the 1 percent, the oppressor, the man,” he says. “To me that was putting a target on our backs.”

Even though some would say that reality television represents a degradation of entertainment TV, Dawson says that the genre goes beyond that.

“I see it more as a great sociological experiment that not only allows us to be entertained, but forces us to think about really tough issues, to confront things that we might not otherwise want to confront or that our entertainment might otherwise allow us to avoid.”